I must admit, I had my misgivings about the prospects of a movie based upon Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball. After all, Moneyball is a book about how Billy Beane took the Oakland Athletics to unheard of success on one of the most meager payrolls in the major leagues using a (then) unconventional view of baseball based upon discovering and exploiting inefficiencies in the market for players. How can that be turned into a movie?
And yet, they did. And it’s a great movie.
Mind you, part of it is my own nostalgia and romance for the game. I was a budding fan of baseball during this era of Athletics baseball. I watched Hudson, Mulder, and Zito. I cheered Chavez, Tejada and both Giambis. I was amazed by Koch and Bradford. I grew to love and appreciate the beauty of the game. I enjoyed the story of each season as it unwound. The glorious victories. The agonizing defeats. I still love this part of the game.
But it was more than just the on field game. I started reading. I got exposed to the works of Bill James and sabermetrics. Here was a guy who tried to systematically understand the game, and why it was the way it was. To really be able to say something definitive about the players, and how to evaluate them. The approach appealed to me, and gave me insights that I didn’t have before. It helped explain why the Athletics did what they did.
And I began to appreciate the business game. How clever, low payroll teams could still compete against big market teams like the Yankees.
But how could you make a movie that conveys all these things on screen?
Well, the Moneyball story is a fascinating story. And Aaron Sorkin has done an amazing job of adapting it to the screen. Brad Pitt does a great job portraying Billy Beane. And in the end, I was blown away at how powerful the movie was.
I know part of it is my own love for my adopted home team. It’s awesome to see angles of the Oakland Coliseum up on the big screen. It’s not like Fenway, which seemingly appears in every movie of baseball. The Coliseum isn’t an immaculate temple to baseball. It isn’t even that historic. But it’s where I remember seeing some amazing baseball, and where I grew to appreciate and love the game. And as I watched it in a theater in Emeryville (an Oakland suburb), I could tell that some of the audience members (a suprisingly large number) felt it too.
When people asked me what the greatest baseball movie was, I always used to say Bull Durham. That’s still a great movie, but Moneyball may in fact be greater. Greater because it’s a true story, about the real game. If you have any love of the game, watch it. If you don’t have any love of the game, give it a try.